How to avoid palm oil at the supermarket
Author: Rachael Ridley
Even for the most ethically minded of shoppers, the supermarket can be a battlefield when it comes to identifying products containing palm oil or palm oil derivatives. Its low cost, versatility and functionality means palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet and can be found in all kinds of packaged products in your supermarket, from food to cosmetics and cleaning products.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) doesn’t currently require the use of palm oil to be specified in the ingredients lists on product labels, meaning many of the products in your trolley will likely have palm oil in them declared as ‘vegetable oil’, ‘vegetable fat’ or another one of its 200+ alternate names. With all this ambiguity, how does an aspiring ethical and responsible shopper buy with confidence?
The problem with palm oil
Palm oil plantations, primarily found in Indonesia and Malaysia, often contribute to deforestation and can cause the destruction of the natural habitat of threatened species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. The Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, which are both critically endangered, have been particularly affected by the growing palm oil industry. The unsustainable clearing of these tropical forests has also displaced native communities and contributed to climate change through deforestation and the peat fires often used to clear land for plantations.
Tips for buying palm-oil free products
Currently, manufacturers and importers are able to voluntarily declare palm oil in the ingredient list, but very few actually do, putting the onus on consumers to do the hard work required to make an informed choice in the shopping aisle. The good news is, there are a few ways you can crack the code to figure out when palm oil has likely been used in a product:
- When palm oil is not declared, consumers can request this information. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires the name and address of the supplier to be listed on the label, and many suppliers provide a free call telephone number on their labels. If you buy a product regularly and want to know if it’s palm-oil free, ask the supplier for specificity.
- Using the nutrition information panel on the label of food products is the key to deciphering whether palm oil is an ingredient. Saturated fats must be declared on the label of food items and palm oil contains a high proportion of saturated fat. If the generic ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘vegetable fat’ has been listed in the ingredients and the product has a high proportion of saturated fat, it’s likely palm oil has been used. Although there is a chance it could be coconut oil, so it’s best to check with the supplier for clarity.
- Many chemicals derived from palm oil are widely used in makeup, shampoo, conditioner, and cleaning and laundry products. Unfortunately, there is even less clarity around the declaration of palm oil in these products due to the huge number of palm oil pseudonyms used. For a full list of these names, visit Palm Oil Investigations.
- When it is too difficult to avoid buying products with palm oil in it, keep an eye out for the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) globally recognised ecolabel, which signals the use of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil. RSPO has now issued more than 800 trademark licenses, but unfortunately, the proportion of global palm oil certified by RSPO is as little as 19%.
Use the Endorsed by Planet Ark logo to guide you
For peace of mind in the laundry aisle, look out for the Endorsed by Planet Ark logo. Our team of researchers have reviewed and scrutinised the totality of each endorsed product’s environmental impact, as well as ensuring it meets our health, quality and cost standards. Planet Ark proudly endorses Aware Environmental’s Aware Sensitive and Orange Power laundry and cleaning products, which are palm-oil free, as well as naturally derived, vegan and cruelty free.
The Aware Sensitive range is completely free of ingredients that irritate allergy and skin conditions such as optical brighteners, fragrances, dyes and enzymes – making them perfect for asthma and allergy suffers and young children.
Orange Power was born out of a discovery on Mildura’s orange farms by brothers Andrew and Iain, that orange oil could be used in sustainable domestic cleaning products. Orange Power has since become one of Australia's favourite home-grown household brands. All Orange Power cleaning and laundry products are formulated without using harsh chemicals and palm-oil derived ingredients, rather relying on the abilities of their natural formulas.
Aware and Orange Power products are one of the only palm-oil free options in the cleaning and laundry range available in supermarkets. They also have a Corporate Partnership with the Orangutan Project to make a direct contribution to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of orangutans in Indonesia.
For more information on these products and stockists, visit our Endorsed Products Guide.